My youth didn’t know the continents.

I was so surprised. I remembered putting together the continent puzzle in my Montessori classroom at age 5. Asia in yellow. Africa in green. You could take the pieces out and trace them, and then color them to make your own map. Cool stuff, at that age.

I think we must have learned them in elementary school, too. And middle school. You can’t have world history in sixth grade without a little world geography thrown in, right?

But things are different now. Testing has tightened up on the curriculum, and apparently having a globally competitive workforce doesn’t require ever actually being exposed to a globe, so long as you can read and do algebra.

I’ll admit, my initial thought was, “I have to do something about this.” It’s the teacher instinct in me. “They don’t KNOW, I must INSTRUCT them!”

I thought about it. I asked for advice. People told me about all kinds of neat strategy games and activities involving geography, but none of them seemed right.

I finally came up with an idea. Since the story we’d been reading was about a soccer game, I would use soccer as a way of starting a conversation about geography. After all, there are plenty of places where soccer is a really big deal, and the U.S. isn’t really one of them.

Then today, my co-animator called me. I told her about my big idea.

She asked me, “So, did the youth say they were very interested in soccer?”

Well, they didn’t seem non-interested …

But I knew the truth. We had volleyball players, softball players, (American) football players, and track and field athletes in our group. Soccer was cool, but not particularly exciting.


It’s hard, sometimes. I’ve gotten good at looking like I’m not a teacher, but it’s much more difficult to stop thinking like a teacher. I learned something important about the group: they were lacking in knowledge about the world outside their own country. But this isn’t school, and there isn’t going to be any high-stakes exam next week. I have two years to help them develop a sense of global awareness, and it doesn’t have to happen now just because I happen think it’s already years overdue.

Maybe they’re interested in computers. Or fashion. Or music. Or the environment. Is there any feasible topic that couldn’t be unpacked in such a way as to reveal a facet of the wider world?

It’s good to reflect. It seems I’ve been neglecting breadth in favor of depth. And it’s been working. They’re more aware of their choices and immediate realities than they were before. They’re learning to read between the lines. But the lines also appear beyond the visible horizon. There needs to be a balance. And just as with depth, breadth will not come without genuine excitement.

It’s tricky, being teacher to a group of children one day, and mentor to a group of youth the next. But maybe that’s how I find my own balance. Luckily, I know that the excitement I need is already there. All I have to do now is learn.